Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Nation’s fallen honored with ‘choicest flowers of springtime’ at annual Memorial Day ceremony

It was a very moving, simple ceremony, with an eloquent speech by Brig. Gen. Brian Sampler, USAF. Roses were handed out, and we were asked to place a flower on a grove, in "uniform" direction, quietly stating the name of the servicemember whose grave we were honoring. I placed a rose on the grove of CPL John Robinson, U.S. Colored Troops, a Civil War unit of the United States Army recruited in Key West; he died in 1890. Prior observances with other National Guard speakers were marred by missteps, including reading out the name of a Nazi German veteran and omission of any mention of the Civil War (in a speech that was all about our national custom of going abroad and killing foreigners, in both just and unjust wars). I wore the cartoonist Herblock's American flag tie and my father's 82nd Airborne jacket (the South Jersey Chapter of the 82nd Airborne DIVN ASSN, Inc. is named the "Edward A. Slavin Chapter" in dad's honor).

Posted May 30, 2017 12:02 am - Updated May 30, 2017 05:47 am
By JARED KEEVER jared.keever@staugustine.com
Nation’s fallen honored with ‘choicest flowers of springtime’ at annual Memorial Day ceremony

Photos by PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM Navy veteran Garry Cohn pays his respects to a veteran buried in the St. Augustine National Cemetery after the annual Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday. New to the ceremony this year was placing roses at the grave sites.

PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM Brig. Gen. Brian Simpler, assistant adjutant general for the Air Florida National Guard, gives the keynote address at the annual Memorial Day ceremony held in St. Augustine National Cemetery.

The simple placement of a rose on a grave was the final act for many as they left the St. Augustine National Cemetery Monday following the morning’s Memorial Day ceremony.

It was an act alluded to in the remarks of the ceremony’s only guest speaker, Brig. Gen. Brian Simpler, assistant adjutant general for the Air Florida National Guard.

In a speech that provided historical perspective for the cost of the nation’s wars, Simpler read portions of the 1868 general order from Gen. John A. Logan, which is generally credited with starting the solemn holiday.

As the nation was recovering from the Civil War, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic sought to set aside a day that would “honor comrades who died in defense of their country,” Simpler said.

“At this appointed time, we should gather around their sacred remains and garland the mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime, and let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor,” he added, paraphrasing the order.

Standing at the north end of the cemetery, Simpler went on to acknowledge the Dade Pyramids near the wall at the opposite end of the grounds.

The three pyramids, built in 1842, cap vaults that contain the remains of men who died in the Second Seminole War. The coquina structures are thought to be the oldest monument in any national cemetery.

Those lost to other wars were also mentioned in the speech. Simpler read the names — and provided a brief story — of men buried there who died as far back as the Spanish-American War, and told the stories of local men who were lost in more recent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After his speech, Nancy Birchall and Gretchen Titshaw, of the American Legion Post 37 Auxiliary, read the names of 177 St. Johns County veterans who have died since Memorial Day 2016.

A moment of silence, wreath laying ceremony and playing of taps wrapped up the morning’s events before visitors were invited to place roses at the cemetery’s grave sites.

The roses were a new addition to the annual ceremony this year.

Bill Dudley, chairman of the St. Johns County Veterans Council, said they were donated, with plans to have more next year.

“It really ends the ceremony in a very special way,” he said.

The Ancient City Chapter of the Military Officer’s Association of America and the Florida National Guard sponsor the annual event. Retired Army Lt. Col. Ron Birchall was this year’s master of ceremonies.

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